In October 2021 the UK government introduced a new International Sportsperson route to cater for elite athletes and qualified sports coaches wishing to work in the UK.
The new International Sportsperson route was introduced on 11 October 2021. It merges and replaces the previous Tier 2 Sportsperson route and the sporting provisions of the Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Worker route. The new route is designed for elite sportspersons or qualified and internationally established sports coaches who have the potential to significantly contribute to the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK.
What are the requirements of the new route?
In order to qualify for the new route, an applicant must:
- be an elite sportsperson or qualified coach;
- be aged 16 or over;
- obtain endorsement from their sport’s relevant governing body (GBE) that recognises them as being at the highest level of their profession internationally;
- show that their employment will develop their sport in the UK at the highest level;
- have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their employer; and
- demonstrate that they have personal savings so that they can support themselves when they arrive in the UK (unless their sponsor has certified maintenance on the CoS).
The applicant can opt for entry clearance or permission to stay for either:
- 12 months or less; or
- between 12 months and three years.
If the applicant is applying to enter or remain in the UK for more than 12 months, they must also prove that they meet the specified English language requirement. The required level is A1 on the Common European Framework or Reference for languages (basic proficiency). Proof of a tuberculosis test may also be required if the applicant is travelling from a listed country.
An extension process can be carried out within the UK if a sportsperson who initially opted for a short-term stay now wishes to remain in the UK for a period exceeding 12 months. This benefits clubs who need to complete transfers quickly as they can opt for the short-term route initially with the applicant subsequently undertaking an English language test, whilst in the UK, to extend their stay. After five years continuous residence in the UK, the sportsperson and their dependants can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
What is an international sportsperson permitted to do whilst in the UK?
As well as working for their sponsoring employer, individuals under this route can carry out unpaid voluntary work and take up a second job for up to 20 hours per week in the same profession as their main job or a profession on the Skilled Worker shortage occupation list. Taking up a temporary position as a sports broadcaster is also possible.
How does the new route differ to the Tier 2 and Tier 5 routes?
The new route rebrands the previous Tier 2 and Tier 5 routes and, instead, consolidates the two routes into one category. There are very few substantive changes to the rules, however, points to note are:
- Removal of time limit - there is no longer a limit regarding how long an international sportsperson can stay in the UK. Previously, this was limited to 12 months for the Tier 5 visa and six years for the Tier 2 visa. This meant that if a sportsperson wished to settle permanently in the UK, then they only had a short window between their fifth and sixth years in the UK to obtain settlement. Repeated extensions will now be permitted which frees applicants of any potential time pressure.
- Qualifying continuous residence - time spent in the UK under the Tier 5 visa did not previously count towards the continuous residence requirement for settlement. However, all time spent in the UK under the International Sportsperson visa will qualify, even if the individual only opts for the short-term option initially.
- Visa required in advance of entry - the changes have also removed the option for non-visa nationals to request border entry for a period of three months or less when they showed their GBE and CoS as evidence. Removal of this concession may cause difficulties for clubs who require swift recruitment of players for short periods of time. Clubs may look to see if the individual can carry out their duties as a visitor under the Appendix Permitted Activities if they need to be here urgently, however, the individual would still need to leave the UK to apply for their sportsperson visa if that was the ultimate aim.
How will this impact UK sports clubs?
Whilst the rebrand may not represent a drastic change, the new route should be welcomed as it simplifies guidance for Employers in the sporting sector. Employers will no longer need to consult two sets of rules which previously risked over-complicating the process and increasing administration time (which is particularly important in the fast-moving world of sports). This is even more crucial now that EU nationals will also require a visa so sports clubs can no longer rely on free movement to get athletes into the UK quickly. Individuals and their dependants who are currently in the UK under the Tier 2 and Tier 5 routes will not be affected by the changes and they will transition to the new route upon applying for permission to extend their stay.